In the heart of downtown Miami, where no one dared to open a serious eatery, Karina Iglesias, executive chef Deme Lomas and Adam Hughes opened their labor of love, Niu Kitchen. Chef Deme’s Catalan roots are evident in his realistic cooking where nothing is manipulated but based on incredibly well sourced fresh ingredients and then treated with the utmost respect, making his dishes, simply extraordinary. Examples are the Llamantol, layers a Maine lobster salad with avocado and 5-minute egg mash, topped with trout roe. Ous hides poached eggs inside a rich and creamy foam of truffled potatoes, topped with summer truffles and crisp Iberian ham shavings. Sometimes the whole Calamari can be gigantic as a sea monster. It comes grilled over potato cream with herb picada and the whole Branzino cooked over potato slices and fish fumet—consistently cooked to perfection—is always remarkable. I learned from Deme that one of his secrets is he only uses olive oil and seldom uses butter, a fact that it’s clear in his rendition of what I call a Chocolatina (an old time favorite of mine) referred by them as a Cremosa de Chocolate drizzled with Olive Oil and Maldon salt flakes.
Up the street, by the old Omni area is the adorable Mignonette, named after the sauce made with minced shallots, vinegar, and black pepper, which is used as a condiment to accompany raw oysters. It’s also a misspelled diminutive for pretty and dainty in French. To me, it’s a little jewel serving wonderfully fresh and appropriately priced seafood headed by Miami native Chef and co-owner Daniel Serfer. Oysters are served raw with a mignonette condiment or baked two classic ways: Rockefeller with herbs, butter, and Pernod, or Bienville, with rock shrimp, bacon, mushrooms, and brandy. Can’t say I favor one dish over another, the whole menu is impeccably executed, but often I find our group orders the Mussels in spicy tomato sauce, the amazing Crab Cake, Lobster Devilled Eggs and the Seared Scallops over Polenta.
Near Niu Kitchen is Fooq’s a restaurant with a strange name (especially when you try to pronounce) that instantly became a success, even if located in the slightly undesirable location in the downtown stretch of North Miami Avenue. Fooq’s owner David Foulquier has created a niche with his version of soul comforting cuisine. David’s Persian heritage is present in their Persian Peach Chicken, a rich and complex dish composed of braised chicken legs enrobed in an aromatic sauce made with almonds, saffron, peach and Persian spices served over dry apricot and sunflower seed-studded rice. Crispy Stuffed Squash Blossoms are filled with a creamy spiced goat cheese, butternut squash puree, and garnished with rose petals and sumac. But Fooq’s burgers, a special blend of a skirt, brisket and short rib patty with melted Jalsberg cheese is regarded by many as the best burger in town.
Chef Brad Kilgore is the new toast of the town. His restaurant, Alter, is amongst a handful of restaurants that have been given four stars by The Miami Herald, including J&G Grill, the restaurant he headed before, making Kilgore the only chef in Miami to be awarded four stars twice. At only 29 years old, he is talented and has the attitude that reflects it—without being arrogant. His artistic creations include a Summer Squash appetizer that looks like a garden of colorful yellow, and green squash over a bed of bright green tarragon lemon curd, soft feta, citron vinaigrette accented by crunchy puffed wild rice. A refreshing break away from the invasion of “gardens” with carved veggies buried in all kinds of dehydrated and baked make-believe “soils” many worldly Michelin Starred chefs have been creating recent years. His Local Okeechobee Oyster Mushrooms, glazed with soy, Beemster Gouda puree, crispy yuba and kombu salt is an ecstasy of flavors, but his Slow Braised Brisket, fork tender soft and juicy with parsley, cream corn, and red plum harissa excels in every way. Two must have appetizers are the baked to order sumac & dill seed crust Bread & Butter—umami butter that is—and the soft egg, with an uncommon sea scallop espuma, gruyere crisp, and truffle pearls.
Down by the Design District, I can think of one restaurant I respect, MC Kitchen. I recall the first time I met MC kitchen’s chef-owner Dena Marino, way back in 2010 when she landed in Miami, and I found out she had spent years under the tutelage of acclaimed chef and restaurateur, Michael Chiarello. Her destiny was sealed, and soon she started to produce a green market menu with seasonal dishes and ingredients selected by quality, harvest maturity, and farming integrity. The results yield dishes like Cow’s Milk Burrata, polenta croutons, broccoli rabe pesto, and oven dried tomato salsa with basil. Her pastas, all phenomenal include Rustichella d’Abbruzzo Paccheri, house made spicy sausage with broccoli rabe, pickled onions, and pecorino romano cheese. My favorite entrees include Tennessee Honey-Glazed Niman Ranch Pork Chop with caramelized Brussels sprouts, bacon-apple hash, and the meaty Rosen Colorado Prime Lamb Chops served with a tomato spinach frittata, and brown butter sage pan sauce. With all these delights, I don’t need a dessert!
Cena by Michy’s.
At Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, Timon Balloo created a wonderful menu and environment when he opened this restaurant back in 2010. That year Sugarcane became everyone’s favorite place to go for casual cool and to taste epicurean revelations. The menu is still relevant after five years and ranges from crudos and raw bar, tapas-style appetizers, robata grill items, and a few large format comfort dishes like Rib-Eye and Chef Timon’s famous roasted chicken with truffle fingerling potatoes and wild mushrooms. New dishes recently introduced include Pork & Peaches with Maple Demi, Foie Gras Fried Rice with Schredded Duck, Coriander, and Kecap Manis; and the refreshing Watermelon with Kimchee or the Goat Cheese with Sesame, a truly revealing simple dish that remains memorable.
The always evolving and adored Miami Chef Michelle Bernstein reigns at her new restaurant, Cena by Michy’s, a reincarnation of Michy’s but with brand new open kitchen and interior design. Her approachable menu is composed of a variety of newly inspired, unfussy dishes that are meant to please the local neighborhood. The restaurant is setting the trend for people who venture into the local, market fresh dining scene. With an emphasis on vegetarian dishes that taste like a million dollars, we recommend a Beet Sorghum Risotto, made with roast beets, horseradish crême fraiche; a marvelous Cauliflower Steak, with pickled garlic aioli, Marcona almonds, raisins and capers, and Creamy Polenta with Brussels sprouts and l’ekama oil slow poached egg. Green Gnocchi with spring vegetables, parmesan broth, kale pesto, as well as Goat Cheese Cavatelli in long-cooked tomato sauce and whipped stracciatella add to the list of vegetarian dishes. Then, again, her creations also favor dishes like a stellar Prime Skirt Steak with house duck fat fries and béarnaise, and the original Sweetbread Tacos with salsa verde, huitlacoche cream, and pickled cabbage.
Next installment, Miami Beach!……. ■